Finland has long been considered the least flashy of the Nordic countries, overshadowed by design-savvy neighbours like Sweden and Denmark.
But as Helsinki
steps into the spotlight as the World
Design Capital for 2012, the country is showcasing its own innovative
design traditions, with new accolades, including a cutting-edge design studio.
names to look for
1898, Alvar Aalto is ranked by many design aficionados as the 20th Century's
number one architect -- and not just in the phone book. It is estimated that
Aalto designed more than 500 buildings during his career, of which around 300
were built (in Finland and around the globe).
with just architecture, Aalto collaborated with his wife Aino on town planning,
interior design, furniture and glassware design, You will have seen his work
even if you did not know it was his: the curvalicious bentwood Paimio
chair; three-legged stackable birch
stools with rounded legs; the asymmetrical Savoy vase that
cradles flowers in its many crannies.
Artek is the furniture and homewares store
founded by Alvar and Aino, and it maintains their legacy today. But design in
Finland is so much more than just Aalto. Other local design icons include:
- Eliel and Eero Saarinen, a
father-and-son pair of architects and designers. After moving to America,
Eero designed the ultra-groovy Tulip chair.
- Marimekko, renowned for its
cheerful, colourful fabrics, made into clothing and home furnishings. The Unikko
pattern (big bold poppies, traditionally in red) is the most
- Iittala, a
global name in covetable tableware and glassware, with textures and forms
often gleaned from Finnish lakescapes.
- Fiskars, the oldest company in Finland,
managed to make an icon out of orange-handled scissors. Who knew?
What to see
almost-mystical closeness to nature has always underpinned their design. If you
prefer a scholarly approach to your master class in the uniqueness of the local
craft (as opposed to, say, hitting the stores), start your familiarisation at
the Design Museum, home to a
permanent collection entitled “Finnish Form”.
is more your thing, stop by the curvaceous Museum
of Contemporary Art Kiasma. More than a decade after it opened, quirky
Kiasma (designed by American architect Steven Holl) still stands testament to
Kiasma, you are not far from the Finlandia
Talo, a design masterpiece from Alvar Aalto built between 1967 and 1972.
The concert hall is accessible on guided tours -- or better yet, snare a ticket
for a concert in order to admire Aalto's incredible attention to detail.
harbourside kuappatori (marketplace) is the perfect place for mooching around
in search of local culinary delicacies as well as tourist-oriented handicrafts
Park runs west of the kuappatori, with popular strolling streets Eteläesplanadi
and Pohjoisesplanadi on either side. Along here you will find the flagship
boutiques of established Finnish classics like Marimekko (Pohjoisesplanadi 33); Iittala (Pohjoisesplanadi 25); Artek (Eteläesplanadi 18); and nearby Stockmann department store (Aleksanterinkatu
52), where seemingly every Helsinkian buys everything…
something less mainstream, make a beeline for Punavuori, Helsinki's design
neighbourhood, southwest of Esplanadi. It is dotted with whimsical little
shops, vintage stores, galleries and workshops of young designers.
Design District Helsinki is a loose
confederation of innovative design shops spread through the central area,
particularly between Esplanadi and Punavuori. Keep an eye out for the
black-and-white sticker in the window of these places.
The article 'Helsinki’s innovative design scene' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.